For Immediate Release
SEPTEMBER 14, 2006
FBI National Press Office
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY, 10036
To the Editor:
With the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks coming shortly
after British authorities disrupted the plot to bomb airliners
over the Atlantic, we are seeing another round of calls
to break up the F.B.I. or to create a domestic intelligence
agency separate from the F.B.I. with no police powers, similar
to Britain’s MI5.
But these critics, who have been joined by the prominent
federal appeals court judge Richard Posner, seem to be unaware
of two critical things. One is how far the F.B.I. has come
in transforming itself into an intelligence-driven organization
in the last five years; the other is how many attacks we
have prevented in that span.
Using intelligence and technology—and our authority
to make arrests—the F.B.I. has stopped five terrorist
plots in progress in roughly the last year alone:
On Aug. 31, 2005, in Los Angeles, we arrested four members
of a group of radicals that had grown out of the prison
system and was planning to attack military recruiting
centers and synagogues.
In February, in Toledo, Ohio, we arrested three men
who had conspired to travel to Iraq and attack American
In a case out of Atlanta, indictments were handed down
in March and July against two men who had traveled to
Washington to videotape possible targets near the Capitol
and then met with other extremists in Canada to compare
In Miami in June, seven extremists were arrested after
being recorded on F.B.I. surveillance tapes swearing
allegiance to Al Qaeda and making plans to attack targets
in Miami and Chicago, including the Sears Tower.
In July a plot to attack subways in New York was disrupted
with the arrest of the mastermind in Lebanon.
In addition, we worked closely with our law enforcement
partners in Canada and Britain to help uncover plots in
those countries that made headlines worldwide this summer.
This recent record suggests two things: that the operational
tempo of Al Qaeda’s followers is still high, and that
the F.B.I. is doing a good job.
So why tear apart the Bureau now and start a new agency?
How long would it take this new agency to get rolling? A
year? Two? What would it use for a database? How would it
address privacy and civil liberties? How long would it take
the officers of this new agency to develop trusting relationships
with America’s 18,000 local law enforcement agencies?
There is a more fundamental question for the “domestic
intelligence agency” proponents: Who says the other
system is better? When we visit our colleagues at domestic
intelligence agencies abroad to compare systems, those without
police powers tell us they wish they could make arrests.
Israel and Britain have domestic intelligence agencies staffed
by some of the finest operators in the world. Since 9/11,
both countries have suffered terrorist attacks on home soil
while we have not. That doesn’t mean their systems
don’t work best for them; it simply proves that the
domestic-intelligence model is not a magic bullet against
The proponents of creating a new agency assume the F.B.I.
always makes arrests at the first opportunity, scooping
up the little fish while the masterminds get away. They
seem unaware of the existence of our intelligence directorate,
or the 56 field intelligence groups spread throughout the
nation. The critics don’t understand how intelligence
is leveraged in each investigation.
At any moment, we are involved in joint operations with
American and foreign intelligence agencies that go on for
months or even years, gathering intelligence and disrupting
plots by means other than high-profile arrests. These operations
allow the F.B.I. and our partners to continue to follow
the thread of intelligence until we have learned the identities
of all the players or found the last safe house. In those
cases no one takes a bow or holds a press conference, but
the work gets done quietly and effectively. When we do make
arrests, it is because making arrests was the most effective
way to disrupt a plot.
The Bureau’s director, Robert Mueller, has made a
priority of merging our longtime strength of being a premier
investigative agency with the new goal of being an intelligence-led
agency. We have started a national security branch, with
special agents and talented analysts, to control our counterterrorism,
intelligence and counterespionage efforts. This branch is
now home to about 40 percent of the bureau’s employees.
We have added a directorate that handles investigations
involving weapons of mass destruction and also conducts
research to stay on the cutting edge of terrorist capacities.
We have expanded our partnerships with local law enforcement
by increasing the number of joint terrorist task forces
to 101 today from 33 before 9/11.
In those squads in cities across the country, local police
detectives, our agents and analysts and investigators from
other federal agencies work side by side, sharing information
and running down leads.
We have also developed a database, called the Investigative
Data Warehouse, that can search more than 700 million records
from more than a dozen agencies and match them against our
own investigative records.
As we break down the structure of Al Qaeda, we see the very
shape of the terrorist threat changing and adapting. Our
approach has to continually evolve to keep up. Starting
over from scratch will only set us back and make America
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